The new BMW X3 SUV gets an M Performance range-topper and, for right-hand-drive markets at least, that makes it the first go-faster variant of this particular SUV we've had. It's not going to be a massive seller in Ireland, but that doesn't alter the fact it's a sensationally good performance vehicle - perhaps the very best of its type.
In the Metal:
In typical BMW fashion, the X3 M40i has plenty of sporty signifiers that not only make it stand out among its regular third-gen X3 brethren, but which manage to make the absolute most of the new SUV's shape. It has a bigger front airdam and intakes, silver door mirrors, 20-inch alloy wheels, a lower stance, spaced twin exhausts at the rear and a more colour-coded appearance all round. Inside, a fresh design of sports wheel and 'M'-logos in various places help to make the fast flagship stand out from the slightly more prosaic X3s further down the line-up.
As overtly sporty SUVs go, the X3 M40i is phenomenally good. For a start, it sounds thoroughly mean from the get-go, because it has a set of M Performance pipes for its exhaust system. It fair barks into life and settles into a rough, menacing idle, while once on the move it plays a tremendous tune. Much of it is the usual poppy-burbly-bangy exhaust fanfare we get from all turbocharged performance machinery these days, although thankfully the straight-six engine up front is not completely drowned out of the symphony as a result.
Such a superb soundtrack only heightens the sense of speed, and it's not as if the M40i lacks for venomous acceleration in the first place. It can pick up and go startlingly hard from either a standstill or any sort of regular road speed, pulling sweetly and cleanly round the rev counter in a manner that soon has you forgetting that it's turbocharged. Coupled to a sublime eight-speed automatic gearbox and its four-wheel-drive system, the M40i feels as rabidly quick as some of the company's much-heralded historic M cars. High praise, we're sure you'll agree.
Of course, blistering speed is all well and good, but if the chassis can't handle it, then the package is compromised. Luckily, the M40i has some peachy underpinnings. Adaptive dampers do a great job of tying the X3's body down in its sportier drive modes, without turning the BMW into a skittering mess that can't deal with lumps and bumps in the surface. Better still, M Performance brakes bite strongly and the steering is weighty and direct; it might actually be a bit too heavy, although you can customise the car's settings to team its firmest suspension and engine modes to the comfort-oriented steering if you so wish.
Nevertheless, get the X3 M40i stoked up (it doesn't take much effort) and it will string a series of challenging corners together in a manner not too dissimilar to a well-sorted hot hatch. It lacks for the final, crucial degrees of rear-axle interactivity that would make it truly gobsmacking in the bends, but if you want an SUV that can go like the clappers without terrifying you in the process, the M40i seems to have all the bases covered. It can even do cruising comfort to a high standard, although there's an underlying firmness to the ride that's to be expected of something on massive low-profile tyres that's supposed to handle well, so bear that in mind if you do decide to test-drive one.
What you get for your Money:
The X3 M40i will be well-specified here in Ireland as you'd hope, but it will also be very expensive to buy, at €84,980, and punitive to run in terms of its taxation. For those reasons, it's likely to sell in tiny numbers on our shores - which sort of makes it all the cooler, given it will be so rare.
BMW's X3 has had better-than-average handling for a mid-sized SUV ever since it launched way back in 2003, so lumping a great big 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine into it and handing the whole thing over to M Performance was something of a masterstroke on the company's part. The resulting vehicle doesn't disappoint and thus it leaps to the forefront of the performance SUV class... even if we don't buy such things here in Ireland.